“If,” as Julian of Norwich says, “this life is a penance,” then I think we should be moved to accept and embrace it as the opportunity for atonement. We know well the things we would call our faults, failings, weaknesses and mistakes. We are aware of them because we are taught that certain thoughts, words, actions, and omissions are in opposition to Your will for us. We feel the need to make up for these things. We feel a need to do “good things” to atone for the bad.
Life, Your gift, offers us a shot at this psychology; so much so that we can get caught up in the idea that we control whether You love us or not. It’s a dangerous game because every time we drift into that merit-oriented mindset it emphasizes us and what we do instead of focusing on and welcoming Your great love. Julian is right to the extent that accepting life, accepting Your gift means accepting and learning from the suffering and disappointment life may hold for us, and growing in the depth of Your love because of it. It is like going to confession and hearing the priest say, “Now for your penance, go out and live!”
The perfection of the way we love God is the way God loves us. If one thinks carefully of the person in this world one loves most it cannot be denied that the love one has for that person forgives and forgets many faults, failings, weaknesses, and mistakes. I really don’t think God keeps score. That’s something we are into. God sees us with all our warts, overlooks them, and still loves us. To really love another demands that we too overlook all the warts – the warts that we might say make our lives a penance.
The point is that we should think as Julian that life with all its warts is a penance. And maybe accepting these is how we are able to love. But God doesn’t think that way. The concept of penance is ours. You know that when You told individuals to “repent,” You knew it was the way we handled atonement. You did not tell people how to repent, just to repent. It was not Your concept but what You recognized as what we thought we needed to do to “be forgiven.”And You knew that for us Your forgiveness was very important. Life is our Passover.